The practice of public bathing and beauty rituals was common with ancient civilisations like the Egyptians, the Greek, the Romans and the Indus Valley to name a few. In this post I will describe the ritual of hammam-the Moroccan way.
Harun and Hafeeza in separate chambers
Adhere to cleansing body mind and soul
Miraculous to every pore and purified
Mantra tantric to the highest order
A ceremonial purge in steam in heat and
Measurement of heaven haven Allah´s creed
— Kai Michael Neumann
Ancient Beauty Rituals
Perhaps Cleopatra is one of the most well-known Queen for bathing in donkey milk to maintain her beauty and achieve luminous skin.
What is a Hammam?
When we hear the word Hammam we tend to associate it with the Turkish steam bath. There are similarities but since I haven´t experienced a Turkish bath yet I will describe the Moroccan Hammam.
Moroccan Hammam is traditional and forms part of the social routine of the locals both in villages and in towns. Hammam is a bathing ritual usually practiced every week, either at a public or private bath or spa, or even at home. The Hammam also has a religious aspect as Arab-Muslims perform the ablution ritual before their prayers to purify body and soul.
Usually the cleansing is done using a natural black soap before applying the Ghassoul, a Moroccan clay used to exfoliate and remove dead skin cells and rejuvenate the skin.
Application of Argan oil is very commonly used.
Today I am going to walk you through the ritual of Hammam as experienced in Morocco.
I will give a description of both the PRIVATE and the PUBLIC Hammam Ritual.
The concept is basically the same. It is custom to start with a steam bath or sauna with vapour to open the pores. This usually lasts for 20 minutes (though some people can´t manage that long) and during this time you are expected to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
You have access to a big bucket of water and a small bowl to be able to pour cold water onto your body every now and again. So you have the vapour making you sweat constantly and the fresh water to cool down.
After this the cleansing ritual begins. In the basic hammam treatment a black soap called beldi is used to thick lather the whole body and soften the skin. Together with the help of an abrasive hammam glove called kessa the attendant usually rubs your skin and exfoliates. The skin will shed off of you in quantities that will surprise you. Meanwhile, the helper is constantly rinsing you with water. The process is repeated a couple of times and the procedure takes about 20 minutes. Afterwards a massage is given whilst applying a moisturiser all over your body. This is quite relaxing as together with the soft Arabic music that is usually playing in the background and the aroma of oils and natural flavours, you can nearly fall asleep.
Then you are asked to shower and finally offered a Moroccan mint tea and local sweets.
With the more elaborate version of the Hammam, you have the basic services mentioned above included and in addition you will get a 30 minute or more massage using essential oils and natural creams which are carefully chosen to treat your skin type; usually a mix of Karité and algae, jojoba and argan oil. Besides, you will also receive a head and face massage and a facial cleansing.
So what´s the difference between the PRIVATE and the PUBLIC Hammam?
The private Hammam is given on a one-to-one and it is usually an assisted bath all along. Once you change into the briefs given to you (or you can wear a bikini bottom if you prefer) and wear the shower flip-flops, you are then accompanied to the sauna room where you are bathed, rinsed and frothed from head to toe by the attendant. The Ghassoul, Moroccan clay is used to remove the impurities of the skin, exfoliate and detoxify the body. Lots of essential oils are used. All this is very pampering and enjoyable. The surrounding atmosphere is great; you have the sound of constant flowing water and the calming aroma of the natural oils.
The public version of the Hammam you only get assisted during the scrubbing whereas the sauna and rinsing you have to carry them out on your own. Or if you visit with a friend then you can assist each other. The public one in Morocco is a real experience. It feels like participating in a social gathering of the same sex and you will appreciate the ingenious behaviour in such a public place where everybody, women or men (if it´s a men´s hammam) of all ages, are nearly/or naked except for the briefs and there is no taboo whatsoever. Women and men cannot mix and they either attend on a different day or at a different hour. Men and women alike enjoy a normal conversation and laugh whilst having a common bath.
Natural Anti Ageing Skin Care Tips
Below are some natural skin care oils and gels that are used in a modern Hammam Spa and which you can prepare and use at home:
Aloe Vera Gel. Excellent to rejuvenate the skin. Take a leaf, cut it across and in pieces and rub it on your face and all over your skin. It hydrates the skin and has anti inflammatory properties. My mum has a plant and we sometimes apply it to our skin.
Rosewater. Take some rose petals and put them in warm water, then sieve and use the water. It has anti inflammatory properties and can be used as a toner.
Essential Oils. Sandalwood, Rosemary, Avocado oil and of course Argan oil.
Some Tips About the Marrakesh Hammam
In case one day you decide to experiment with a public hammam when in Marrakesh, make sure you READ ON.
It can turn out to be quite a rough experience.
First of all keep in mind that in a public hammam it is unlikely to find anyone who can speak your language or English (unless you can speak or understand Arabic).
Usually if you are a woman you will go to women´s hammam and the same applies to men. You will be assigned a woman helper to help you with the scrubbing, and once in her hands the treatment is not going to be the most gentle.
Mind you, the Moroccans are very nice people and their intentions are good, however bear in mind that they are used to having this type of bath since they were kids, BUT we are NOT.
So here goes my experience.
I was with a friend and after we walked in and sort of tried to say hello, we paid and were signalled to go and change. We came out with a towel wrapped around that was snatched away from us by the big lady (kind of, what do you need this for), and we were guided to the sauna room.
The public hammam is usually an old historical building with nice architecture and on the inside it feels like you are walking in a hall from the one thousand and one nights. The marble floors are white and clean.
We were asked to sit in a corner and wait. Waiting is the least problem as you will keep busy observing what´s going on around you. It feels like a communal ritual among the ladies. Young and not so young women, friends, family and in-laws gather together. They are all enjoying their bath, helping each other out if need be whilst chit chatting and socialising.
A few minutes later the lady came back carrying two big buckets full of water. She sat on a stool and we were sitting down. I can´t remember if we had to bring our own soap which we probably had bought from the market. So she started rubbing us at the same time, moving from one arm to the other at a time.
Then she told us to lay facing down on the floor. There was no mat.
And this is when my friend panicked and asked me if this is going to be safe and if there´s any chance of getting an infection. Now the place is sparkling clean and there´s running water and steam at all times, so it seems impossible the water could be contaminated or the floor being dirty.
The big lady was rubbing our backs and legs vigorously and pressing our bodies against the floor. She had strong arms and hands and they do not joke about lathering. This is the way it has to be done. We weren´t sure if we should laugh or cry, and though we did wince a little, there was no way to escape. So we just got along with it and as a matter of fact we did get a few bruises afterwards.
Once the frothing was completed the big lady, now with a smile on her face, let us go. And we had a good time after, dumping big buckets of cold water on each other. You can walk along from the hot sauna to the shower and use the cold well water to rinse as many times as you like.
Indeed, this was one experience to relate. I did repeat and sometimes I travel to Marrakesh only to go to a proper hammam, but I do the private one, even though the public one was interesting to do at least once.
So how do you feel after reading about the Hammam. Would you dare give it a try and would you go for a private or a public hammam for a true experience? I´d love to hear your comments and how did you feel if you have already been to a hammam.
I will leave you below links to the above mentioned Moroccon Hammam Products which you can pamper yourself with. At times I travel to Marrakech, Fes or Rabat (since I can find very cheap airfares from Spain) specifically for a Hammam treat and to buy these lovely products. I hope you can enjoy the luxury of silky smooth skin after using these products. Let me know how it goes.
Black Soap & Kessa Exfoliating Glove
Ghassoul Face and Body Mask and Argan Oil
www.mybestessentials.com – Beauty & Wellness